Thursday, May 21, 2009

Children's Orchestra Concert

I have written before about the children's string orchestra I have the privilege of conducting, and they are just as much a blessing in my life today as they were when I wrote those two posts a year ago. I love these sweet children, and working with them, while it is certainly challenging, is also very rewarding.

Our musical year has come to a close. At our spring concert, my group played a Merle Isaac arrangement of "The William Tell Overture," and a really beautiful little piece called "Prelude and Fugue" by Gerald Sebesky. The ensemble played so well considering their very young ages (my group ranges from kids as young as seven up through third and fourth graders) - the work we've done on intonation, dynamics, ritardandos, and important harmonies all came through in the performances.

On the Monday following the final concerts, we always have an "Awards Night" ceremony and celebration. This year I gave each student in my group a certificate highlighting a particular strength, and chose one recipient from each section (1st violins, 2nd violins, violas, and cellos) for the "Outstanding Musical Achievement" award. Seven-year-old Jeffrey in the first violins learned his music backwards and forwards and brought enthusiasm and joy to each rehearsal. Nathaniel in the second violins surprised me in every way when he went from being the weakest member of the group to the 2nd violin I depended upon the most for his careful practice and reliability. He even took weekly lessons with me to work on his orchestra music in addition to his usual lessons with his violin teacher at school! Julia, a very young and sweet violist, held down her small section of two with strong playing, her big eyes constantly upturned to watch for my cues. And Olivia, a lanky blond cellist with a braces-clad grin, may have been the single student in my group who improved the most this year, becoming a solidly dependable principal cellist, standing firm in a section with one silly seven-year-old cellist with a constant case of the giggles, one frequently misbehaving cellist with a misplaced need for attention, and one cellist who played about a half-step sharp all the time.

I could go on and on about all the kids. Each one of them has a special place in my heart.

I had recently mentioned to Trudy, the founder and director of the youth orchestra organization as a whole, that it's sometimes a little depressing to conduct the one group that everyone wants to get out of. My group is the most beginning group, and the goal is to prepare students to graduate into the next group, and from there, into the next one after that, and finally, into the advanced orchestra. So if I do my job well and the students do theirs and work hard, after a year or two in my group, all these little ones leave me and move into a more advanced group. And I miss them, and sometimes feel a little sad that the dream of each young string player is to move up after a year in my group. But I got some affirming words at Awards Night when executive director, music director, and parents all thanked me for my hard work, my patience, and my musicianship... and the conductor of an advanced ensemble told me my group sounded the best it had ever sounded (this has only been my third semester as conductor of the ensemble), and that I was "setting the bar higher" for the more advanced ensembles by doing such a good job! I felt a lot better. I'm sure the wishful thinking will still creep in from time to time - "If only the kids loved my group so much they wanted to stay!" But I think that enjoyment of my group and the desire to move forward can co-exist together for the students. And their progress is a good thing, and something for me to be thankful for and proud of.

I was presented with some lovely, thoughtful gifts.

From the organization as a whole, a beautiful begonia:

From the parents of my ensemble kids, a mountain sage for our new yard:

And a gift card, with our upcoming move in mind!

As a freelance musician and music teacher, I have a lot of jobs.

I tend to think that most of them are the best jobs in the world.

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